Knicks coach Derek Fisher reflects on LeBron’s decision, while still waiting for Carmelo Anthony to make his

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LAS VEGAS — Derek Fisher made his head coaching debut for the Knicks on Friday, leading the team’s somewhat stacked Summer League squad to a 76-64 victory over the Mavericks.

“There was definitely some emotion coming into the building today, and this morning, as I started to really think about what this meant,” Fisher said. “And that this would be the first time that I got a chance to actually coach my team in a game situation. The players made me look probably better than I am right now, but the same way that I ask them to work hard and continue to do the things they need to do to get better, that’s what I do. And it was a lot of fun today.”

The first game of the day in Las Vegas was merely a backdrop, however, for the avalanche of free agent news that continues to roll in now that the biggest piece to the puzzle has fallen into place.

LeBron James going to the Cavaliers set off a flurry of other moves, but his leaving Miami is likely to have the greatest impact on shifting the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. Fisher reflected on that decision, while still awaiting word on whether or not his own marquee free agent in Carmelo Anthony will choose to be back with the Knicks next season.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” Fisher said of James returning to Cleveland. “It appeared that he was seriously considering it for some days now. So, not so much of a surprise. He appears to be a smart young man, and has always thought of himself as more than just a basketball player. From that standpoint, it looks like things are going to work out, and I’m happy for him and his family if that’s what he truly wants.”

Fisher may not be similarly happy for Anthony if he too should leave, but supports his right to play wherever he chooses.

“I think everyone from our perspective has expressed, directly and indirectly, how we feel about having Carmelo back here and what that would mean,” Fisher said. “But he’s an adult. He’s allowed to make decisions he feels like are best for him and for his family. Whatever decision that is, we’ll respect it, and we’ll have to continue to do what the New York Knicks have to do. But hopefully we’ll hear something soon, so that we can move forward in terms of our business.”

For now, that business involves getting acclimated to his new role as coach, and beginning to work toward putting a system in place that will give New York the best chance to approach the status of contender in the immediate future. While James leaving certainly shifts the focus of power, his new team may not be as well-equipped to instantly compete for a title. But long before LeBron left Miami, Fisher signed up for this gig with the belief that the Knicks could do some damage in the East — a possibility that would seem all the more plausible with Anthony firmly in place.

“I don’t’ know if it’s just about LeBron going to Cleveland,” Fisher said. “I’ve always had the view, before even taking this job, that we would have a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference. I know a lot of people think that we need to change players and we have some guys that can’t play any more, et cetera. That’s just not my belief.”

“We expect to be able to compete in the Eastern Conference,” Fisher said. “Obviously, having Carmelo would make that easier.”

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.